From Publishers Weekly
Noted essayist and former American Scholar editor Epstein, having enlightened us on ambition (Ambition: The Secret Passion), now turns to its companion, snobbery. The topic is ripe with promise, but Epstein's observations are less revelatory than entertaining. Underneath their pretentious exteriors, he writes, snobs are insecure people who have latched onto arbitrary measures of status to prove they're worthier than those around them. It's natural fallout, he says, in a world where complete fairness is nonexistent. The best antidote to snobbery, Epstein suggests, is to treat people the same, regardless of their circumstances, and to value things for their intrinsic worth rather than their cachet. Epstein shares his own snobbish tendencies and biases at the outset. From childhood, he writes, his snob radar was fully operational, and by his senior year in high school he was already "an impressively cunning statustician." Epstein goes on to deal with a range of past and present pretensions relating to class, work, democracy, possessions, parenting, college, clubs and intellectualism. In one delicious instance, he describes an American reaction to visiting royalty. "Princess Diana, not long before she died, visited Northwestern University, where I teach," he writes. "The spectacle of the university president, a smallish man in glasses, following the Princess about the campus, yapping away, reminded one of nothing so much as that of a Chihuahua attempting to mount an Afghan hound." The chapter on name-dropping is particularly sharp, citing a variety of ways people exploit connections to well-known individuals for social profit. Epstein has a wickedly wonderful sense of humor and keen observational skills, both on display in the firsthand anecdotes scattered throughout this essayistic assemblage.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This readable but serious work examines the nature and place of snobbery and its various manifestations in America, from the country's founding to the present. Epstein (English & writing, Northwestern Univ.) defines snobbery as the practice of making oneself feel superior at the expense of others and argues that as long as people are seeking self-affirmation, it will long live on. He writes of snobbery in the workplace; of its presence in evaluating education, taste, dress, wealth, and race as factors in determining "class" inclusion; and of the snob factors involved in ranking one's status and prestige in all walks of life and situations. He identifies celebrity-level requirements in today's world, compares his own snobberies with those he discerns in others, and overviews Americans' interactions with the cultures of England and the European continent. While Epstein's argument is quite witty and thoughtful, the scant bibliographic references and conversational tone will limit this book's appeal in academic libraries. It is, however, highly recommended for all general readers and public libraries. Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred
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Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.